Call it a sin, or consider it a virtue: Pride has history


When asked about the word “pride,” few people will picture lions — “Pride” is the collective term for a group of lions that live together. Rather, many will remember the biblical warning, “Pride goeth before a fall.” Those words are a condensation of an admonition from Proverbs 16:18, which translated in their entirety, read “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

I suspect that many of us will also remember hearing that pride is one of the seven deadly sins, a septet that has been traced to a fourth-century monk and the sixth-century pope, Gregory I.

The 13th-century theologian Thomas Aquinas offered his ideas about those deadly sins in his book, “Summa Theologica,” and like Gregory, asserted that pride underlies all the other sins.

In condemning pride, they ignored Aristotle’s view, recorded more than 2,000 years ago, that pride is a virtue to be distinguished from unjustified or excessive pride, which the ancient Greeks called “hubris.”

Today we recognize pride as being both a virtue and a vice — that is, as having both positive and negative aspects. We recognize that pride is an essential element in feelings of self-worth. In celebrating their pride in public, members of the LGBTQ community proclaim their worth as human beings, and reject feelings of shame about who they are — shame heaped upon people like themselves for centuries and, though to a lesser extent, on themselves. Even today.

Pride is not among the emotions that humans are born with. According to the 20th-century psychologist Paul Ekman — to whom Time magazine in 2009 named among the world’s 100 most influential people — we enter the world able to experience only anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise. In order to feel pride, a child must have developed a sense of itself as separate from others, which requires the understanding that others differ from oneself.

The American Psychological Association’s “Dictionary of Psychology” defines pride as “a self-conscious emotion that occurs when a goal has been attained, and one’s achievement has been recognized and approved by others. It differs from joy and happiness in that these emotions do not require the approval of others to be experienced. False pride can become grandiosity if the sense of accomplishment is not deserved, or the reaction is excessive.”

Since none of us can feel precisely what another person is feeling, what you feel when you feel pride may differ from what I feel when I feel pride. However, each of us can identify that feeling when we feel it.

I distinctly remember seeing my son’s expression when, a day or so before he turned a year old, he took a half-dozen steps on his own for the first time. His immense smile radiated delight, and what at that time I probably would have described as pride. But could he have been feeling pride? Had he already developed a sense of self?

Virtually all experts would say “no,” but who knows? Since he spoke only a few words then, I have no way of knowing what he was feeling in addition to happiness.

One could write a whole book about pride, and needless to say, people have. I’m sure that by reading them, I’d reach a new understanding of my own feelings of pride — and shame.

Perhaps I’d learn why my pride prevents me from having even people who I know respect me and care about me from seeing my messy apartment, or why I fear how people who have not seen me for many months might react when they see how obviously I’ve physically aged — a fear I know is inextricably linked with pride and shame.

In any event, I’m happy for all the LGBTQ people who are celebrating during Pride Month. At the invitation of The Washington Post, readers shared their reasons for doing so. In a June 11 article, one man said, “I celebrate Pride because so many people before me couldn’t. I celebrate Pride because it means being able to live authentically.”

Another said, “I celebrate Pride to honor the courageous people who helped make my path easier (and) my load a little lighter.”

A third man, who had been married to a woman for 34 years, recently came out as gay to family members. Now 55, he acknowledged that, for him, “it’s been a very, very long fight. And finally, I just got tired of fighting and hiding and feeling shame about myself, and having that shame just spill over into so many different aspects of my life.”

All humans struggle, experience sorrow, face setbacks and obstacles, wrestle with problems, and grapple with pain. Thankfully, the struggles, sorrows, problems, setbacks, obstacles and pain of many of those in the LGBTQ community have significantly lessened, thanks to their increasing acceptance by society.

Have an opinion? Share your thoughts as a letter to the editor. Make your submission to letters@riverdalepress.com. Please include your full name, phone number (for verification purposes only), and home address (which will not be published). The Riverdale Press maintains an open submission policy, and stated opinions do not necessarily represent the publication.